Helping the less fortunate, honoring departed family members, indulging in holiday cheer.

These are common desires among many Hoosiers during the Christmas season.

But few people can accomplish all three at once, as did two brothers who are Columbus natives.

Brett Fisher of Noblesville and Cole Fisher of Broad Ripple, along with friend Sean Armstrong, formed a not-for-profit organization called The Least of These, Inc. more than a dozen years ago.

Story continues below gallery

The organization takes its name from Matthew 25:40 in the New Testament of the Bible: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

While the charity’s name comes from the Bible, its marquee event runs on the outrageous side — but with a humanitarian purpose.

The men organize an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party each year at an Indianapolis bar and restaurant. Free food and drink is provided to patrons in exchange for a donation of 15 non-perishable food items, Brett Fisher said.

“The patrons really come decked out,” said his mother, Gretchen Fisher. “One guy arrived in a three-piece Christmas suit nicely trimmed with ornaments all over his beard.”

“We prefer less than aesthetically-pleasing attire, but it isn’t required,” Brett Fisher said.

About 45 people showed up for the first event. By 2016, the party had attracted nearly 700 supporters who brought in 10,200 non-perishable food items.

The 12th annual event, conducted from 8 p.m. to midnight this past Friday, drew 775 patrons and generated nearly 11,000 canned food items, this year’s goal, Brett Fisher said.

Two other Columbus brothers, Evan and Shawn Green, surpassed all expectations by bringing in three full pallets of canned food, Brett Fisher said.

This year’s party was conducted at the Rock Lobster nightclub, co-owned by former Purdue football player Rob Sabatini.

Sabatini has long been a supporter of The Least of These, Inc., allowing his venue to be used free of charge, and providing the drinks and food at his cost, Brett Fisher said.

Over the years, the charity also has attracted nearly 20 financial supporters that include a realty company, a medical-devise manufacturer and an ink supplier, he said.

When the party ended, several Rock Lobster party-goers joined Columbus Salvation Army employee Danny Benningfield and his wife, Betty, in loading the food into one of the charity’s trucks.

The Benningfields drove the packed vehicle back to the Illinois Avenue facility, arriving in Columbus at about 1:15 a.m. Saturday, Betty Benningfield said.

The final step was carried out shortly after the sun came up Saturday morning. That’s when seven members of the Community Church of Columbus Youth Group unloaded the truck and hauled the cans into an empty classroom.

For about 10 years, all donations raised through The Least of These, Inc. was given to food pantries in the Indianapolis area, but a family loss prompted a change last year.

The siblings’ older brother, 1996 Columbus North graduate Andrew “Ty” Fisher, died May 30, 2016, of pancreatic cancer at age 38.

While serving as a property manager for the Columbus Salvation Army Corps and Community Center, Ty Fisher had developed a close relationship with the charitable organization, his mother said.

As his health deteriorated during the final five months of his life, the Salvation Army organization came forward to assist and comfort Ty Fisher in a variety of ways, she said.

“They were very wonderful and thoughtful,” said Gretchen Fisher, who has long served on the Bartholomew County Salvation Army Advisory Board with her husband, Steve.

So to honor their older sibling and parents, the Fisher brothers decided to give all donations to the local Salvation Army in Columbus, Brent Fisher said.

Some of the food is being distributed to needy families this week as part of the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program, envoy Amy Tompkins said.

About 200 families are scheduled to receive the fixings for a full Christmas dinners, she said.

While most of the food will be put into the Salvation Army’s food pantry, it will likely be gone by the end of February, Tompkins said.

Fortunately, the late-winter event CANstruction, in which teams compete in a design/build contest primarily using canned food, is able to restock depleted food pantry shelves in Bartholomew County just as the holiday donations run out.

As a financial analyst, running a full-time charity is something Brett Fisher and his brother, an online advertising specialist, never seriously considered.

“We would always be open to broadening this event,” Brett Fisher said. “But for Cole and I, it’s really more of a passion project than a day-to-day business.”

Nevertheless, Gretchen Fisher says she sees the party as an extremely noble act that fills both her and her husband with pride.

“We are thrilled,” she said.

Food pantries

The Least of These, Inc., started by a pair of Columbus brothers with a friend, donates canned goods each December to the Salvation Army food pantry in Columbus. Here is information on the three largest food pantries in Bartholomew County.

Salvation Army

Address: 2525 Illinois St., Columbus

Phone: 812-372-7118

Online: corps.salvationarmyindiana.org/columbus/

Pantry hours: 10 a.m. to noon Monday; 9 a.m. to noon Tuesday and Thursday; 5 to 7 p.m. on the fourth Monday of the month.

Love Chapel

Address: 311 Center St., Columbus

Phone: 812-372-9421

Hours: 9 a.m. to noon Monday-Saturday

Online: columbuslovechapel.com

Community Center of Hope

Address: 543 Washington St., Hope

Phone: 812-546-4499

Online: communitycenterofhope.org

Pantry hours: 8:30 a.m. to noon Tuesday.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.